OSLO (Reuters) - Hexagon AB (HEXAb.ST) Chief Executive Ola Rollen, one of Sweden’s best known business leaders, pleaded not guilty on Monday at the start of a trial for suspected insider share trading in Norway.
If convicted, Rollen faces up to six years in prison for an investment in Next Biometrics (NEXT.OL) made in 2015. The transaction did not involve Hexagon itself.
“I have a strong desire to testify,” he told the Oslo District Court. Asked by the judge whether he was guilty as charged, a stern-looking Rollen answered “No”.
In charge of Hexagon since 2000, Rollen discarded its old businesses and turned the company into a force in measurement technology and related software, making it one of Sweden’s biggest firms worth $17 billion.
In 2016, shortly before his initial detention by police, he was ranked among the world’s 100 best-performing CEOs by the Harvard Business Review.
A purchase of shares in Next Biometrics on Oct. 6 and 7, 2015, made by Rollen’s investment firm, amounted to illegal insider trading, police said, as the firm was also involved in negotiations with Next to take a larger stake at a higher price.
When a cash infusion was announced a few days later, Next’s shares surged.
“Anyone trading shares must have access to the same information as a basis for deciding whether or not it’s wise to buy or sell,” prosecutor Marianne Bender said.
“When someone has access to secret information about what’s happening at a company, and other investors don‘t, there is a risk that this information could be abused,” she added.
Rollen and his lawyers have argued that he did not possess privileged information about Next Biometrics at the time of the share purchase, and that the transactions were motivated by his own independent analysis of the Norwegian company.
His knowledge of his own forthcoming investment in Next did not make it illegal to buy shares when he did, they added.
A verdict in the case will most likely come some time after the turn of the year, the Oslo court said on Monday. Hexagon’s shares, which have risen by 32 percent this year, traded 2.0 percent lower for the day at 0930 GMT.
Some investors are betting on a further drop, including hedge fund manager David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital, which holds a short position of 0.85 percent of Hexagon’s stock according to the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority.
Greenlight has increased its position this year, but the last change was reported in June, the data showed.
Additional reporting by Johannes Hellstom in Stockholm, writing by Terje Solsvik; editing by Jason Neely/Keith Weir